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Thaw in Central European University row as bilateral negotiations mooted

The Hungarian government and New York governor Andrew Cuomo to start talks that may end threat that a new higher education law would force CEU to close its Budapest campus

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The Central European University (CEU) says it will maintain all its operations in Budapest in the 2017-2018 academic year, while the Hungarian government has accepted an invitation to negotiate with the governor of the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo. The university hopes that the negotiations will lead to a long-term solution that will allow it to remain in Budapest after 2018 and start recruiting students for the 2018-2019 academic year.

“We want the negotiations in New York to come to a speedy and successful conclusion that removes the obstacles to our remaining in Budapest.” said president and rector Michael Ignatieff.

The announcement comes two weeks after MEPs called to trigger Article 7 against Hungary and asked the Hungarian government to repeal the controversial higher education law, that is widely seen as an attempt to force CEU to move out of Hungary.

Governor Cuomo released a statement saying he is ready to enter discussions “without delay”, after the US Department of State has released a statement reminding the Hungarian government the US federal government, “has no authority or intention to enter into negotiations on the operation of Central European University or other universities in Hungary.”

Tamás Menczer, spokesman for the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs and trade said prime ministerial commissioner Kristóf Altusz is happy to travel to the US to meet Cuomo, and the parties are currently in the process of agreeing a date.

This is something of an about-turn given that just a week before the Hungarian government complained that reaching an agreement will be impossible unless it can negotiate directly with the US federal government. 

“We have said since the beginning that the right solution is a new agreement between New York and Hungary,” said Ignatieff. “We hope an agreement can be reached that builds on the existing 2004 agreement between New York State and the government of Hungary to guarantee CEU’s academic freedom and strengthen its role.”

The new legislation directly contradicts an agreement between the Hungarian government and the State of New York, which allowed CEU to offer both Hungarian and US-accredited Masters and PhD qualifications while maintaining its status as an accredited American institution.

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Related subjects: Hungary, Academic freedom, Central European University